Who wants to be a virtual millionaire?

The value of online 'worlds' such as Second Life has passed $1bn in the West - in real money. Who is making it? And how? Rebecca Armstrong reports on a bewildering social phenomenon

Lonely? Ugly? Broke? Don't worry, you can make friends, have a makeover and earn a million from the comfort of your armchair. There is a catch - your friends and looks will only exist online. But, for an increasing number of virtual adventurers, the money made within the games they play is cold, hard cash.

According to a report published by analysts Screen Digest this week, the market for massive multiplayer online games (MMOG) is now worth more than $1bn in the West alone. The report's author, Piers Harding-Rolls, says that, "there are millions of people playing MMOGs. These new games have brought with them many new gamers - and new ways of making money".

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